Wednesday, September 28, 2005

COMMENT: How the new security laws could deem you a terrorist!

So you think the latest national security laws don’t target people from certain ethnic and religious backgrounds? Think again.

The PM has reached agreement with State Premiers and Territory Chief Ministers to enact a raft of new laws that are allegedly designed to protect all Australians. The laws apparently don’t discriminate against a particular group, and are designed to strike a balance between civil liberties and security (as if the two cancel each other out!).

The Prime Minister claims that new “unusual” laws are needed to cope with “unusual” circumstances arising from what he perceives as a direct threat by terrorists to Australia. Following briefings by officials from ASIO and the Office of National Assessments, it seems State Premiers and Territory Chief Ministers agree with him.

According to a report in The Australian newspaper on 28 September 2005, ASIO’s briefing to Premiers and Chief Ministers attending the COAG meeting included claims that some 800 local Muslim “extremists” are ready to carry out a London-style attack.

The report came as President of the Police Federation of Australia issued a statement confirming that Muslims will be directly affected by enforcement of the new laws. The Federation has called upon the government to legislate so that police officers are indemnified for civil action.

To describe the proposed laws as unusual would be an understatement. To claim the laws will not lead to racial profiling of persons deemed Muslim is a bald-faced lie.

How will the laws work in practice? Who will be the ones deciding on who is a suspect, who should be detained without charge and who should be forced to wear a strap around their ankles? And on what basis will they decide?

When the President of a union representing police and law enforcement agencies across the state claims Muslims will be racially profiled, you’d better believe it. Police are the ones implementing the laws on the ground. They have already had experience with existing laws and with responding to intelligence reports. They also communicate with their counterparts in other Western countries implementing similar laws.

The police know what is happening. Politicians sitting in their ivory towers or think tank heads counting their private sponsorship dollars simply cannot credibly contradict what the police are saying.

Under existing laws, only Muslim Australians have been charged and convicted. Only Muslim organisations are listed as terrorist groups in Australia. In the US, a similar list has groups from Israel, Northern Ireland Spain and South America.

The last terrorist acts in Australia were committed against Indian and Turkish interests. One attack involved the assassination of a Turkish Muslim diplomat by Armenian extremists. Yep, you guessed it right. Muslims were the last people to be targeted by terrorists in Australia.

And today, they are being effectively targeted by terror laws. It’s not me saying this. It’s the police themselves.

And in case you had any doubts about who is being targeted, consider this. On August 28 2005, the Sunday program on the Nine Network aired a Hypothetical moderated by Geoffrey Robertson QC. The subject was terrorism, and the panel included political leaders, security officials and media representatives. Part of the scenario involved the shooting of a person of “Middle Eastern” appearance deemed a terrorist suspect.

Apart from Mr Robertson and myself, not a single person on the panel saw any problem with shooting the terror suspect based on his appearance.

So where does that leave my former law clerk? She “looks” Muslim despite having a Hindu mother and Catholic father and being born in Canberra. And where does that leave Christians and Jews of Arab descent? And after events in London, where does that leave Brazilians?

There are hundreds of thousands of Australians that could be deemed Muslim. They might be part-Aboriginal. They might have Muslim dads whom they never met and who left them with Arabic or Turkish or Malay surnames. They might have Muslim ancestry of some sort. They might just look a little different. Their liberties will be compromised. And they are just as Australian as you are.

These laws will not make us feel safer. They will actually hand victory to the terrorists. Bin Ladin wants Muslims to believe they are targeted by Western governments. He must be sitting in his cave and smiling right now.

But we still have a few weeks to raise our voices before the laws are enacted. In that regard, all I can suggest is that we all make noisy hay while the sun of liberty still shines!

Words © 2005 Irfan Yusuf

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